SOLEDAD — House resolution 3641 was passed on Dec. 30, changing Pinnacles National Monument to Pinnacles National Park. All that’s needed now is President Obama’s signature, which should happen any day.
National monuments are created by presidents under the Antiquities Act, and Pinnacles was created in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt, primarily for the amazing geology. This piece of stunning geology is one half of a piece that was carried here from north of Los Angeles by the San Andreas Fault, as Park Superintendent Karen Dorn explained to me during a recent visit.
National parks, on the other hand, are created by Congress for multiple reasons, in this case they included the chaparral grasslands, the riparian watershed and the cultural history, both Native American and early settler. Pinnacles is also the site of one of the major condor releases in 2000, and according to Ranger Bea Lujan, there are 32 of them in the high peaks.
“Everyone has been looking forward to this,” said Lujan, a 25-year veteran of the Park Service, 15 of which has been at Pinnacles, said about the transition.
I talked to Lujan in the new visitor center at the west entrance. Less than a year old, this facility’s ribbon cutting was last march. Lujan also said that the Nature Conservancy secured the campground on the east side and brought it into the park.
Dorn said that the new long-term management plan for the monument was recently completed, and that this plan will guide Pinnacles after it transitions to a national park. She said the main changes people will notice, as well as the main changes park staff will make, will be the signage. The park is open every day now, and that won’t change.
Dorn said that it is likely there will also be more visitors, given more media attention and the fact that European travelers often plan their U.S. visits around national parks. She said that to the regular visitor, it will look pretty much the same. There is already a new visitors center at the west entrance, which is usually staffed, and the campground on the east side, formerly outside the park, has been added. These 135 campgrounds can fill up, so it’s wise to reserve a site in advance.
One of the most popular attractions is the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop, a 2.4-mile trek from the west side and around nine miles from the east side. From the west parking lot, there is a wide trail leading due east. It’s only .6 miles to the cave entrance. While there are a few tight spots and some climbing involved, the caves are not difficult to navigate, but a good flashlight is required, as there are spots that are pitch black.
The more ambitious can take a longer hike up 1,400 feet to the High Peaks, with stunning geology and sweeping views. And if that’s not ambitious enough, there is the Wilderness Trail, which heads south from the picnic area and climbs steadily through a lush valley before turning along Chalone Creek, over nine miles long and requiring much climbing.
Jan Brosseau at the scenic, Spanish–style Inn at the Pinnacles, a charming B&B just outside the park, said that she and her husband Jon were very excited about the national park status, adding that they expected more park programs and more people staying at their inn.
Other businesses in Soledad seemed somewhat oblivious to the change. Many were closed in the middle of the day on a Friday, and most of the people working in the open stores had no idea about the changes. In fact, some of these seemed only vaguely aware of Pinnacles. Others were aware, but didn’t expect it turn the local economy around.
“I don’t think there’ll be any change,” said Ann Trebino of Soledad Pharmacy. She said she doesn’t anticipate more business because there are so few visitor-serving businesses in Soledad.
The east entrance of the Pinnacles is more popular. It’s gateway is Hollister. Debbie Taylor at the Hollister Chamber of Commerce was hopeful.
“We’re happy about this and hope for a positive impact on tourism,” she said.